Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
The Senator from Rhode Island is passionate about acting on climate change and protecting our environment. As a founder of the Senate Climate Action Task Force he is fighting for smarter solutions.
What has fueled your passion to address environmental issues that affect population health?
Environmental hazards harm public health in Rhode Island, a downwind, coastal state. Air pollution flows into our state on prevailing winds from coal-fired power plants and other big polluters in states to our west. This causes thousands of premature deaths, and costs billions in increased healthcare costs and decreased productivity, in our state. Because Rhode Island can’t regulate out of state polluters, it is critical to work with the EPA to curb cross-state air pollution.
Climate change and rising seas are also threatening coastal communities in Rhode Island. Seeing the damage recently inflicted on Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas, we begin to understand what’s at stake when bigger and more frequent storms become the new normal. Rhode Island has a lot of coastline at risk, and I feel it is my duty to rally Congress and bring attention to our changing environment.
What is one thing you would like members of the public to understand about your work?
If we pay attention and plan wisely, we can protect and restore our land and water. It is not too late to take action; we just need to work quickly. Public and environmental health progress is already under way to clean our oceans, increase our energy security, and protect Rhode Islanders from toxic chemicals. More and more, there is movement with an entire generation of young people, and a growing acceptance among the public of the science behind climate change.
Hope also lies in the fact that this is not really a partisan problem. This is a political problem where big special interest groups are putting intense political pressure on one party. Dark money is flowing to groups that call climate change a hoax. Dark money looks to threaten and punish any Republican who dares to support climate legislation. I am confident that as soon as that political pressure eases, there will again be bipartisan work on climate change and other environmental issues.
You have said that climate change poses one of the greatest threats to our economy and national security. What legislation are you proposing to cut carbon pollution and prepare our communities for environmental changes?
One of the best and most effective ways to cut carbon pollution is through a price on carbon emissions. That’s why I introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act. Right now, the measurable costs of climate change are not reflected in the price of fossil fuels. But according to the International Monetary Fund, that gives the fossil fuel industry an effective $700 billion-per-year subsidy in the United States. My legislation would ensure that the price of fossil fuels begins to reflect the enormous costs they impose upon public health and the environment.
I’m also working on smart solutions to prepare Rhode Island from rising sea levels and the loss of natural infrastructure. I designed the National Coastal Resilience Fund for precisely this reason. It will invest millions of dollars towards restoring and expanding environmental features such as marshes and wetlands, dunes and beaches, oyster and coral reefs, forests, rivers, and barrier islands that can lessen the effects of storms and the destruction of wildlife habitats.
Lead poisoning is an environmental risk for children in the state of RI and around the United States. What are some of the contributing factors to lead exposure and what are ways that Congress is taking action?
Even though we’ve known for a long time about its terrible effects, lead is still a serious threat especially in older cities, like Providence and Flint, Michigan. Lead poisoning is an issue I have been involved with dating back to my time as Rhode Island’s Attorney General when I sued the makers of the lead paint poisoning children in our state.
I’ve introduced the Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act to stem this crisis on a national level through refundable tax credits, which would cover a large portion of the costs homeowners, landlords, and tenants bear in removing dangerous lead paint and pipes. There is also work being done in Congress to remove lead from the drinking water in public housing and to require additional testing in places with identifiable risk factors.